When Bollywood stars Aamir Khan and Saif Ali Khan run with the Olympic torch on Rajpath on Thursday, they may or may not have Tibet in their hearts — but they will definitely have a few giant corporates on their minds.
For those of you who didn’t know, the Olympic torch run has been divided into several stretches, each sponsored by a brand such as Lenovo, Samsung or Coke. And it is the well-known faces who endorse the brands who get to do the honours.
Says Venkatesh Kini, VP Marketing, Coca-Cola India, "Aamir Khan is our brand ambassador, people associate our brand with his face." Coca-Cola’s six torchbearers will be from cinema, government, the corporate sector, an NGO, science and a grassroots hero. There is no representative from the field of sport.
Says Aamir: "On behalf of Coca-Cola, I am delighted to spread the message of the company’s latest environment awareness initiative, on the occasion of the Olympic torch relay."
Lenovo India has chosen Saif Ali Khan to represent the brand at the torch relay.
Says Prasanna Savnoor Rai, GM Marketing, Lenovo India: "Saif Ali Khan has been associated with Lenovo for a long time. He represents the suave, intelligent modern Indian man, and is one of the most sought-after actors in Bollywood. So he was an obvious choice to run with the torch on our stretch."
But how do people feel about the fact that the torchbearers are not going to be sportsmen and sportswomen? Opinion seemed to be split among the few young Delhiites that Hindustan Times randomly spoke with.
Raza Rumi, 28, is quite outraged.
"It’s obscene," he said. "We have plummeted to such depths of crass commercialisation that now nothing is left untouched. Not even the spirit of the Olympics. Everything has a value now. Why don’t they sell the Olympic torch too? Put it up on amazon.com? Packed, wrapped and bar-coded with a price?"
Sameer Arora, 22, agrees.
"I feel that the torch must be only carried by sportsperson, because only they know what it feels to represent your country on a global sports platform. Bollywood stars should not be allowed to carry the torch only because they are public figures," he says.
But Nikhar Khurana, 21, has a different view.
"These are popular faces with whom our memories can associate well. I can’t recall one name from the earlier sports lot. At least their presence captures attention and spreads the message in a better way," Khurana argues.